RALEIGH – A Cumberland County horse died last month after contracting Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis, a mosquito-borne disease that is preventable by vaccination. The 8-year-old Quarter horse died despite veterinary treatment.
This is the first reported case of EEE in North Carolina this year. The state recorded 12 EEE cases in horses in 2014. The virus has been detected in North Carolina for many years and is considered endemic, meaning the virus is now commonly found in the state and horse owners should take appropriate measures to protect their equine. State veterinary officials recommend horses receive the initial two-dose vaccine protocol, followed by booster shots every six months.
“If your horses exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” said State Veterinarian Doug Meckes. “Several serious contagious diseases, such as West Nile virus, equine herpes virus and rabies, have similar symptoms and should be ruled out.”
EEE causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord and is usually fatal. Symptoms include impaired vision, aimless wandering, head pressing, circling, inability to swallow, irregular staggering gait, paralysis, convulsions and death. Once a horse has been bitten by an infected mosquito, it may take three to 10 days for signs of the disease to appear.
Meckes recommends that equine owners talk to their veterinarians about an effective vaccination protocol to protect horses from EEE and another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus. The vaccinations initially require two shots, 30 days apart, for horses, mules and donkeys that have no prior vaccination history. Meckes recommends that horses in North Carolina receive a booster shot every six months because mosquitoes can be active for a large part of the year.
People, horses and birds can become infected from a bite by a mosquito carrying the disease, but there is no evidence that horses can transmit the viruses to other horses, birds or people through direct contact.